Rice University has asked me to plan a summer program and course addressing civic engagement from a multi-disciplinary standpoint. I look at this as a synthesis of everything learned during graduate student and accrued over the year of running Caroline Collective. My CV appears a bit schizophrenic thus a personal statement is required to explain my story arc. Because this took me all day and because it serves as a good framework to discuss at both my SXSW panel and the SOS panel at the end of March I thought it should be shared. Probably overarching and of course verbose (If I had a super power it’d be cogent writing). All the more reason to put it out there for public consumption and comments.
Bioengineering is at its essence a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving for biological issues. Those basic tenets have been applied as an individual in both my professional and creative life attempting at a well-rounded academic and cultural education. While at Rice University studying bioengineering for bone defect repair, aspects of architecture, clinical plastic surgery and industrial design were combined with more standard bioengineering aspects of mechanical engineering, materials research and imaging modalities. The incorporation of these fields resulted in novel designs and solutions supported by engaging and dynamic presentations and graphic design telling a story easy to understand for the lay person. Continued discussion with the architecture school resulted in students and professors incorporating the ideals of bioengineering into their architecture projects, including concepts of scaffold ingrowth, duality/singularity between host and body and symbiotic relationships between construct and program interaction. As an instructor, classes were run with equal parts teaching and learning, instructing the students on CAD methods and then employing the students to teach others to accomplish the tasks. Outside of graduate school, I applied this multidisciplinary approach to producing live events incorporating art, music, and film accessible to lovers of any art medium.
This multi-disciplinary education and approach to problem solving has been applied at Caroline Collective, founded in June 2008 with Ned Dodington. Taking the belief that being well rounded as an individual can be a platform for discussion and interaction with other similar like-minded people, Caroline Collective’s goal is to positively impact the cultural landscape of Houston. Our programming develops community-based education models and creates opportunities for individuals and groups to be more successful incorporating seemingly disparate disciplines of technology, music, film, arts and non-profits. We’ve demonstrated that each community has unique challenges but those challenges can be met with similar methods: listening to the needs of the members, incorporating equal parts teaching/learning and arriving at a solution incorporating all of the facets of the problem. Since October we have been running a monthly series called Bandcamp that is a community-focused teaching program to educate musicians on the path to success in their career. A similar community focused meeting, Artcamp, was held last month. In developing sustainable methods to address the art community’s challenges we collectively arrived at the decision to create a Houston Arts Wiki and to hold a day long Houston-wide art fair to introduce all of the resources and arts groups in Houston. We have recently launched a bi-weekly series of business classes with a partner startup, Werkadoo, that teaches independents in any discipline the skills they need to manage a successful independent career. Several companies are forming underneath the umbrella of Caroline Collective pooled from the complementary talents of the members and community groups that inhabit the space.
This transparent and multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving on a community level is akin to the Long Tail effect online. People with niche interests meet to discuss commonalities and find that challenges and interests are parallel rather than perpendicular. Coworking is the physical manifestation of that and Caroline Collective one of many staging points for that interaction in Houston. In Houston you can witness technology focused individuals attending arts events and arts focused individuals attending technology focused events. Communities are experiencing greater engagement, richer relationships and more accessible resources, all due to the framework of a multi-disciplinary approach to solving collective problems. Opera in the Heights is exploring incorporating technology into its performances and digital archiving. Two new coworking spaces have opened based on Caroline Collective’s model, one in the Village focusing on green companies and one in Katy opened by the Houston Technology Center; another is slated to open in the Woodlands. The passive belief that all groups can contribute to and provide solutions to individuals’ problems and the active incorporation of those ideals has resulted in greater collaboration among community groups and greater insight to addressing community and societal challenges.